Building a Bicycle City:
Amsterdam’s pathway towards a forward thinking, eco friendly metropolis
Amsterdam, the culture-rich capital of The Netherlands is without doubt one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. In 2013, there was approximately 1,200,000 bicycles roaming the municipality region of Amsterdam, which amazingly outnumbered the area population at the time (approximately 810,000). The bicycle-per-capita ratio has been sustained through the city’s commitment to implementing infrastructure which accommodates the cycling commuter over the motor vehicle. So how has Amsterdam’s forward thinking and eco-friendly focus allowed it to remain an alpha city not just in Europe, but the world? It can be found in the city’s development since foundation.
During the period of 1170–1173, the region of Amstel fell victim to regular flooding along the banks of the river IJ. The local fisherman and villagers decided to build a bridge which would not only connect the communities on each side of the IJ, but would also act as a dam to prevent further flooding. The river IJ currently flows through the centre of Amsterdam and is known as the city’s waterfront.
In an official document from Count Floris IV, the monarch of Holland, the first record of the region being named was found. Amestelledamme. Within this document, the inhabitants of the region were exempted from having to pay a toll to cross bridges, dams and locks throughout the County of Holland.
Amsterdam earned it’s right as a city in 1306, through the bishop of Utrecht, Gwidje van Henegouwen. It remained a part of the County of Holland and became part of the Hanseatic League of the Baltic Sea. Through its successful granaries, it thus became the most important trading city of Holland.
INDEPENDENCE & TOLERANCE
In 1568, The Dutch War of Independence commenced when the Dutch revolted against the sovereign of the Hasburg Netherlands, Philip II of Spain.
The Dutch were successful in their pursuit and therefore followed a period of Dutch tolerance. Freedom of religion was openly accepted despite the majority of Protestants and many minority faiths.
Due to the religious conflicts going on across the continent of Europe, many sought refuge in Amsterdam, as the city remained unaffected by these clashes.
This can be seen as one of the major signs that the principles of acceptance and tolerance were beginning to form the city’s identity of progression and consciousness. Being a part of the population of Amsterdam gave one a sense of compassion for the community, and preservation of good spirit.
CENTRE OF WORLD TRADE
As the Golden Age swept across Europe in the 17th Century, Dutch trade became acclaimed on a world scale. It was the Dutch merchants that ventured across the globe in search of new lands and ergo new trading. North America, Brazil, Indonesia and Africa were some of the regions included in the Dutch exploration which moreover helped the Dutch establish it’s worldwide trading network.
Amsterdam became the largest port in Europe, and with that became the leading financial centre of the world.
As the city grew, it relied on regents to administer changes and provide the funds for infrastructure. With development of the city came further focus on Amsterdam trying to ensure that the region was able to accommodate the increased responsibility of being a major centre for trade and Dutch prosperity.
Throughout the 17th and 18th century, the open door policy was salient in creating a city made up of an immigrant majority, most being Lutheran Germans. This can be seen through the modern diversity in Dutch surnames.
Wars against the United Kingdom and France had a costly effect on the Dutch Republic and the city of Amsterdam. When the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century arrived, Amsterdam needed to adapt, and did so via the construction of canals that connected the city directly to both the river Rhine and the North Sea. The economy was given a boost as Amsterdam once again became a focal point for world trade.
The 19th Century was when the first bicycle prototype were being introduced across Europe. The bicycle was a regular way to get around town and was suited to the relatively flat, and compact layout of Amsterdam.
The Netherlands remained neutral throughout the World Wars however it suffered greatly through both the scarcity of food and the loss of the Jewish community and other targeted minorities under the Nazi occupation.
During the occupation, Amsterdam cyclists deliberately made commuting around town for German convoys harder, through their anarchic red light running, speed and agility. Cyclists getting around town caused a sense of unpredictability and uneasiness for the foreign occupants.
Post war Europe embraced the commercial four wheel vehicles entering the market, and Amsterdam was no different. Cities across the continent were all eagerly making way for passenger cars, through building roads that made getting around town via motor vehicle optimal.
At first there was widespread belief that the rate of motor vehicle adoption would lead to a decrease, and eventual extinction of the bicycle.
Global, social, economical and political change became evident in Amsterdam via movements including those of the Provos and the Kabouters, and the acceptance of soft drugs and squatting. The change also included a strong move towards a more green, environmentally friendly city.
With activism having a huge effect on government direction, the people of Amsterdam turned down the introduction of cars, and instead focused on building a transport system, that was more suited to the two wheel commuter.
The capital city of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, has come a long way from being a collection of villages resting on the banks of the IJ. It remains outstanding, for its rich culture of art, social moments, enviro-friendly focus, recreational drugs, diverse population and of course commuter bicycles. Thus it can be considered an alpha city in the world and will continue be seen as an influencer in global development going forward into the 21st century.